Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stepped up a verbal onslaught on the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, charging that its members have been instrumental in the recruitment of militants for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
"BDP lawmakers are encouraging young people, even kids as young as 14, to go to the mountains, become terrorists and kill," Erdoğan said Wednesday. "Those ruthless people share the responsibility for bloodshed with the terrorists whom they tolerate and turn a blind eye to."
Erdoğan's accusations followed his outburst against the BDP the previous day, in which he said the party was now openly supporting terrorism and that its eventual withdrawal from Parliament would be no loss.
In a related development, Parliament rejected a censure motion against Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin, submitted by the BDP, in a stormy Tuesday session that produced angry exchanges over police operations targeting Kurdish activists.
Drawing on its comfortable majority, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, ensured that the motion was rejected after a preliminary debate.
The BDP had sought to censure Şahin over a massive investigation into the Kurdistan Communities Union, or KCK, the PKK's alleged urban network, arguing that the minister was responsible for "police-state practices flouting the Constitution" and "reckless attacks on elected representatives and lawmakers."
Adamant over the investigation, Şahin said even Kurds who had voted for the BDP were content with the government's efforts against terrorism.
BDP lawmaker Pervin Buldan likened the hundreds of arrests in the KCK probe to the oppressive practices experienced in the wake of military coups.
"The country has never seen political arrests on such a scale before," she said.
Ankara, Paris Seek to Unite Syria Dissidents
Turkey and France, which have recently become home to different wings of the Syrian opposition, will work together to build a unified organization that aims to assemble all dissidents under the same roof, according to diplomatic sources.
Syria will top the agenda for the Foreign Affairs Ministry heads of Turkey and France, Ahmet Davutoğlu and Alain Juppe, when they meet in Turkey.
Recalling that as both countries hosted Syrian opposition groups, a Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News that discussing ways to unite them, and create a solid opposition organization, should not be surprising.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's exiled uncle, Rifaat al-Assad, and former Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, took charge of a new opposition movement in Paris.
Turkey is in close contact with the Syrian National Council and will likely allow them to open a mission on its territory.
Turkey, Shell to Sign Mediterranean Oil Drilling Deal
Turkey's state-run oil company is close to inking a deal for both onshore and offshore exploration with the Dutch energy giant Shell next week, according to the country's energy minister.
"TPAO [Turkish Petroleum Corporation] and Shell will undersign a joint operation agreement on Nov. 23 that covers exploration in the maritime areas of [the southern province of] Antalya," Minister Taner Yıldız told the Hürriyet Daily News Wednesday.
"This will be an important opening in the Mediterranean. We are moving our strategic weight from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea," Yıldız said during a phone interview.
Shell will undertake the costs of the search. The move comes in the wake of disputes between Greek Cyprus and Turkey over exploration rights on seas surrounding the divided island.
In December 2010, Greek Cyprus and Israel signed an agreement defining their maritime border, allowing the neighbors to forge ahead in the search for energy sources in the eastern Mediterranean. After Greek Cyprus began exploration off its southeastern shore earlier this fall, Turkey responded in kind, conducting its own seismic studies on potential oil and gas reserves off the coast of the divided island.
Turkey has said the Greek Cypriot search violates the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
Noble Energy, a United States-based energy firm, which carried out the Greek Cypriot exploration, declared on Nov. 15 that exploratory drilling off the coast of the island could yield between three trillion and nine trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Shell will initially undertake TPAO's current operation and finalize it within two years, according to the minister.
"In accordance with the seismic data, we plan to begin three years of drilling by the start of 2014," he said. "Of course, it is not possible to tell if oil will be found with such exploration activities, but if the seismic and drilling activities are completed on time and we find oil off Antalya, we will be able to start production by the beginning of 2017."
The minister, however, did not specify where the joint exploration would be carried out.
The ministry is avoiding past practices in which it made promising statements about finding oil in the Black Sea, the minister said.
"Today, Turkey has a stronger national oil company that can enter partnerships with giant firms. Hopefully, we will witness TPAO conducting searches with its own ship," Yıldız said.
Meanwhile, Turkey has canceled plans to explore for oil in Syria while also threatening to cut off electricity to the Arab republic after a spate of attacks by supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Ankara's diplomatic missions, according to the Associated Press.
Yıldız said Nov. 15 that Turkey had shelved plans for TPAO to jointly explore for oil with Syria's state oil company in six wells.
"Right now, we are providing electricity [to Syria]," Yıldız said. "If [Syria] continues on this course, then we might have to reconsider these decisions."
A Turkish Energy Ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with ministry regulations, told the Associated Press that Turkish companies provided Syria with an average of two billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which is around 10 percent of Syria's annual power consumption. According to figures from Turkey's official statistics agency, the average person in Turkey consumes 540 kilowatts of electricity in one year.
Turkish Energy analyst Necdet Pamir said Syria produced an excess of 10 billion kilowatt hours and was therefore not likely to suffer from any possible Turkish move.
"The cut may affect some parts of Syria for a short period of time, but it does not amount to a huge loss," Pamir said.
Turkey Considering Not Offering Syria Electricity
Though now providing Syria with electricity, Turkey's Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yıldız said on Tuesday that Turkey might have to review its decision to provide it.
"We may have to review this decision if the current course continues in that country," Yildiz said as he received members of Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, or TUSIAD, in Ankara.
Yildiz said Turkey halted the joint oil exploration of the Turkish Petroleum Corporation, or TPAO, and six wells of Syria's oil companies after relations had become tense with Syria.
According to the minister, Turkey's decision will come after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is notified.
"We have no change in our zero problem policy with our neighbors, however, we cannot remain indifferent to misuse of this policy and the fact that this has been turned into a unilateral tension," he said. Yildiz also said Turkey could not tolerate anything that had turned into a crime against humanity.
Hundreds of Syrian government supporters attacked the Turkish Embassy in Damascus on Saturday after the Arab League voted to suspend Syria from its meetings and impose sanctions against the Syrian regime over its failure to end crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
Pro-government demonstrators gathered outside the embassy in the evening as their numbers quickly reached a thousand during the one-and-a-half-hour demonstration. They chanted anti-Turkey slogans, hurled rocks and tried to force their way in through the main gate of the embassy compound. Turkey's Chief Consulate in Aleppo, and the country's honorary consulate in Latakia, was also attacked in simultaneous demonstrations.
Turkish Energy Minister Rules Out Building Nuclear Plants with Iran
Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yıldız on Wednesday said Turkey does not have plans to cooperate with Iran on building nuclear power plants in the country.
"Iran developed a very sophisticated nuclear science and technological capability, which we are quite ready to share with neighboring countries and friendly countries in the region," Mohammad Javad Larijani, an adviser to Iran's supreme leader, told Reuters on Tuesday.
Amid controversy stemming from its insistence on enriching uranium despite warnings from the international community, Iran claims its fissile activities are aimed toward civilian use and the country is not planning to build nuclear weapons, although Western countries suspect it will.
"Turkey has for years been trying to have a nuclear power plant, but no country in the West is willing to build it for them," Larijani told reporters. "This is true for our Arab [neighbors] in the region," he said, noting that Iran could produce the power plant with third parties and share the electricity to be obtained from the plant.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is also ready to build [a] nuclear facility," Larijani told Reuters, in words that suggested Iran feels confident to try its hand at nuclear agreements with other countries.
Although the advisor noted that Iran would cooperate with Turkey, he also stressed that the cooperation would abide by the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a deal that aims to prevent the spread of the technology needed to make nuclear weapons, Reuters reported.
His comments coincide with the leak of a United Nation nuclear watchdog report, which caused a stir last week by suggesting that Iran may actually be researching to build nuclear warheads and its nuclear activities may not be completely civilian, as Iran has claimed for years.
Turkey is traditionally careful to increase pressure on Iran regarding the nuclear debate. Having negated a UN Security Council vote in 2010 to impose sanctions on Iran for its nuclear activities, Turkey worked with fellow council member Brazil that year to come up with a swap plan to safely ease restrictions on Iranian uranium, but the deal was never seen through.
Turkey is planning to have two nuclear power plants built along the country's southern and northern coasts within the next decade, and has already awarded a Russian company a contract for the first one to be built on the Mediterranean coast. Russia's state-run energy company, Rosatom, is set to start construction in the town of Akkuyu in 2013 and the generator is expected to provide electricity by 2018.
Turkey has been engaged in talks with Japanese officials to have the second plant built in the Black Sea coastal city of Sinop, but negotiations that started last year were disrupted when Japan suffered from a magnitude-9.0 earthquake that triggered a tsunami and destabilized a nuclear reactor in Fukushima in March.
17 U.S. Energy Firms, Russia Mull Investing in Turkey
The rapidly growing Turkish economy has started to garner more attention from international investors, indicated by the fact that 17 American firms and Russia's largest company, Gazprom, are now considering investing in Turkey's energy market.
The U.S. companies are mostly interested in the renewable energy business in Turkey, while Gazprom, the world's largest national gas extractor, is seriously looking for an opportunity in the country's electricity market.
Speaking to a group of reporters in Ankara on Wednesday, Michael Lally, commercial counselor at the U.S. Embassy, said American companies such as Abound Solar, AES Corporation, Clipper Windpower, General Electric, Megtec Systems and SolarReserve are among those that will make a business trip to Turkey starting Dec. 5. It will be the first time 11 of those companies seek business opportunities in Turkey, Lally said, adding that cooperation with Turkish companies in third countries, particularly Russia, the Caucasus and Africa, will also be on the table during discussions to be held during their stay in Turkey.
Representatives from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and a number of other financial organizations, will also be taking part in the meetings to be held in İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir as part of the planned visit.
The news related to Gazprom, on the other hand, hit online portals after Alexander Medvedev, director-general of the Russian company's export arm Gazprom Export, announced the company's intentions in Turkey.
"We are ready to enter Turkey's electricity market, not only as a supplier, but also an investor," he was quoted as saying by the Anatolia News Agency Thursday. Gazprom's venture into Turkey's domestic electricity market would likely be in partnership with a local operator.
Speaking with Today's Zaman on Tuesday, a spokesman for Gazprom declined to comment on specific targets being considered by the state-owned gas giant.
"Gazprom is at the preliminary stage of discussions regarding investment in Turkey's electricity grid. We will continue to evaluate the different options in terms of electrical grids in Turkey and potential partners," he said.
The move follows failed privatization tenders this year for the Akdeniz Elektrik grid in Turkey's Mediterranean region and İstanbul's Anadolu and Rumeli grids, as well as the Toroslar, Dicle, Gediz and Trakya grids, after the highest bidders for each failed to make payments by the respective deadlines.
The inability of top bidders providing funds on time reflects the difficulty of procuring funds from international investors in the current financial climate, analysts suggest.
Gazprom, awash with cash after net profit jumped 56 percent to $25 billion for the first half of 2011, could fill the void, benefitting from one of the fastest growing electricity markets in the world, with energy demand expected to double between now and 2020.
On Wednesday, Medvedev said negotiations with private Turkish gas distributors were taking place this month.
"We will decide on the procedure to be applied to Turkey regarding gas sale as of January 1, 2012, during our meeting with Turkish executives in November," with meetings scheduled for next week in İstanbul, Medvedev said.
Gazprom would be seeking agreements reflecting the market price for gas, with the company pushing for further liberalization of the gas market and a move away from the subsidized rates that governed long-term contracts with BOTAŞ Petroleum Pipeline Corporation, or BOTAŞ, in the past.
In October, BOTAŞ canceled the contract after Gazprom refused to offer a rebate on gas prices. Medvedev refuted analysts' suggestion that the terminated contract was surplus to Turkey's requirements, saying that Turkey needed Russian gas.
Gazprom supplied 63 percent of all of Turkey's gas imports in 2010, with the canceled deal representing one-third of that.
Turkey's Paid Military Service Bill to be Ready Next Week
A long-awaited bill to exempt conscripts from military service in return for payment will be completed by next week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced Wednesday.
"We are about to conclude work [on the draft]. I believe we will finish it, if not this, then next week. We will move immediately and hopefully pass it through Parliament," Erdoğan said.
The prime minister made the announcement shortly before he met with Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel for talks that focused on the details of the arrangement.
The government and military were reportedly at odds on the eligibility criteria for the beneficiaries of the bill. The government was said to be planning to include men aged over 25, while the General Staff was reportedly in favor of exempting only university graduates over 35 so that fewer conscripts could benefit.
The amount of the payment that will be required and how the generated funds will be used has not yet been disclosed.
In a related development Wednesday, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said a planned legal arrangement to address the plight of conscientious objectors would not amount to abolishing the compulsory draft and a jail sentence for refusing the compulsory draft would stay on the books.
The minister had announced Tuesday that work was under way on a legal amendment to address a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, that condemned Turkey in 2006 over repeated prison terms given to anti-war activist Osman Murat Ülke, who refused to do his military service. The Council of Europe has urged Ankara to enact prompt measures to resolve the problem by December.
The ECHR "has not contested the fact that a jail sentence exists in Turkey for the refusal of compulsory military service. They have contested the fact that the punishment was given over and over again," Ergin said.
Dersim Killings Stir Turkey's Main Opposition Party Again
A Republican People's Party, or CHP, deputy's assertion that his party was responsible for mass killings in an operation in eastern Turkey in 1938 has reignited tensions within the main opposition party.
CHP Deputy Chair Birgül Ayman Güler announced Wednesday that Hüseyin Aygün's statements over the Dersim incidents did not reflect the party's official position and that the deputy had been asked to explain his remarks in a formal paper of defense.
The announcement came after 12 CHP lawmakers issued a joint declaration urging CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu "to take necessary actions" against Aygün, a deputy from Tunceli, the name that Dersim took after the killings. Kılıçdaroğlu is also from the eastern province.
Aygün came under fire after he told the pro-government daily, Zaman, earlier this month that "the state and the CHP are responsible for the massacres and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was aware of them." He was referring to military operations in 1937 and 1938 to quash a rebellion in Dersim, in which thousands of Alevi Kurds were killed.
Aygün has reportedly refused to back down.
"The Dersim massacre occurred during single-party rule, so the CHP and the state are responsible. I don't accuse the CHP and I didn't mean to be disrespectful to Atatürk. But we have to discuss the events," party sources quoted him as saying at a party meeting on Tuesday.
The 12 lawmakers who pressed for measures against Aygün are known to be among the party's most ardent Kemalists.
"We did not voice these misgivings to launch an intra-party opposition. Our aim is to call our leaders and deputies to unity despite spats in our party's grassroots," said Haluk Koç, one of the declaration's signatories.
Former CHP deputy Onur Öymen sparked intra-party controversy two years ago when he defended the Dersim operations.
A prosecutor's office ruled last March that criminal complaints lodged on the basis that the incidents constituted "genocide" or "crimes against humanity" were impermissible because such terms were not featured in the Turkish Penal Code at the time and because the statute of limitations to file a murder accusation had long since expired.